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What We Learned In May

With May finishing up yesterday, I figured we’d convert the What We Learned series into a monthly recap, looking back at the more interesting stories over the last 31 days.

April hitting “breakouts” aren’t real.

We knew this already, but 2010 drove home the point repeatedly, as the first month of the season saw a lot of unexpected players performing extremely well, only to come crashing back to earth in May. Examples ahoy:

Kelly Johnson: .479 wOBA in April, .347 wOBA in May
Jose Guillen: .402 wOBA in April, .305 wOBA in May
Austin Kearns: .465 wOBA in April, .307 wOBA in May
Vernon Wells: .469 wOBA in April, .353 wOBA in May
Alex Gonzalez: .404 wOBA in April, .305 wOBA in May

These guys were heros in April, but their track records didn’t support that kind of performance, and sure enough, all of them got eaten alive by the regression monster. Even bad players can play well for a month – in general, it doesn’t mean anything.

April pitching “breakouts” might be real.

On the other hand, some pitchers showed some surprising early promise in April, and in many cases, they’ve kept pitching well as the season has rolled along. Again, examples:

Ricky Romero: 3.52 xFIP in April, 2.82 xFIP in May
Jaime Garcia: 3.70 xFIP in April, 3.76 xFIP in May
Carlos Silva: 4.12 xFIP in April, 3.59 xFIP in May
Doug Fister: 4.19 xFIP in April, 4.25 xFIP in May

As we saw with Cliff Lee a few years ago, there are times when a pitcher takes a huge step forward, and that becomes readily apparent at the beginning of the season. I wouldn’t bet on any of these guys winning their respective Cy Young awards, but for a guy like Romero, who is showing off a dramatically better set of skills than he had last year, it is quite likely that he will continue to outperform preseason expectations.

We should just stop writing off David Ortiz until he retires.

Ortiz in April: .143/.238/.286, routinely booed, talk of being released
Ortiz in May: .363/.424/.788, best hitter (non-Morneau division) in baseball

Speculating on whether Ortiz is just done has become an annual April tradition, as he’s terrible in the first month of the season three years in a row. He’s a big guy, the type of player who won’t age well, so there’s a built-in expectation that he’s going to just lose it and stop hitting one day. Every year, he starts the year slowly, and every year, people proclaim that this is the year that Ortiz is really finished. And every single year, he proceeds to absolutely pound the baseball afterwards.

Ortiz slumps at times, and of late, those slumps have come in April. He looks really bad when he’s playing poorly. But, if the last three years have taught us anything, it should be that we simply can’t tell when David Ortiz is actually done. Let’s save that talk for when he retires, eh?